MOGADISHU, Somalia — Somali pirates who seized an oil tanker earlier this week have released the ship and its crew without conditions, officials said late Thursday.
The pirates left the ship, which was heading to the port of Bossaso, the region’s commercial hub, with its eight Sri Lankan crew members aboard, said a security official, Ahmed Mohamed.
Mr. Mohamed said the release occurred after local elders and officials opened negotiations with the pirates, who seized the tanker on Monday. The pirates were not arrested and were allowed to leave, he said.
Naval forces from the semiautonomous state of Puntland and the pirates had clashed earlier on Thursday after the pirates opened fire.
The hijacking of the tanker, the Aris 13, which was sailing under the flag of Comoros, was the first such seizure of a large commercial vessel off Somalia since 2012. International antipiracy patrols on the crucial trade route had calmed such attacks, which once numbered in the hundreds.
Puntand’s antipiracy agency confirmed the release of the ship on Thursday night and said that naval forces had boarded it to escort it to the port.
The European Union antipiracy operation in the region said that the pirates had been holding the crew captive and had demanded a ransom. The ship had been anchored off Somalia’s northern coast, an area known to be used by weapons smugglers and the Shabab extremist group.
Families of the crew members had tearfully pleaded for the men to be released unharmed. Somali pirates usually hijack ships and crew members for ransom and generally do not kill their hostages.
The ship had been carrying fuel from Djibouti to Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, on Monday when it was approached by men in two skiffs.
The pirates told the authorities that they seized the ship to protest illegal fishing in the area that has threatened livelihoods, Mr. Mohamed said.
Coastal Somalis, including pirates who quit as international patrols increased and became fishermen, have complained of growing harassment by illegal fishermen and attacks by large foreign trawlers.
They have blamed fishing boats and trawlers sailing under the flags of Yemen, China, India, Iran and Djibouti, and some have threatened to return to piracy to make money.
Experts on piracy say some in the region have let down their guard as the number of hijackings decreased in recent years. In December, NATO ended its antipiracy mission off Somalia’s waters.
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